Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why I Write About My Divorce

Some months back during a phone conference between Mr. Ex and me and our attorneys, Mr. Ex threatened me with a "disparagement clause." He claimed I was disparaging him, the Little Missus, and their Kiddo. "My blog is for me," I told him. "It's my path through my grief." I don't remember what else I told him because I was wailing after he accused me of being a baby disparager, and that was pretty much the end of the phone conference for me.

Today there's an excellent article on grief and writing in the New York Times. The piece is an interview with Joyce Carol Oates and Meghan O'Rourke who have both written books about their grief--Oates after the unexpected death of her husband, and O'Rourke after the death of her 53-year-old mother.

Like O'Rouke, writing is the way I make sense of the world. I don't always think fast on my feet and frequently come way from crucial encounters wishing I'd said something that I couldn't quite articulate at the time. Reflection and writing help me put my thoughts and my feelings in order. I write down my experiences much the way O'Rouke describes. I began this blog in September of 2008 about  a year after Mr. Ex left me. This is my three-hundred-and-twenty-ninth post. In the year prior to starting the blog, I wrote nearly 70,000 words. Words that I can still hardly bear to re-read. Without those words on the page, I doubt that I would have survived.

I continue to blog more about divorce than I do about writing because it continues to help me get through this period when the negotiations over the division of joint assets have devolved into the absurd. Many people would choose to not write about such trying times. There was a woman in the memoir workshop I taught the other night who seemed to be bursting with emotion. She preferred to write fiction, she said, because writing the truth was like re-opening the wound. She had tears in her eyes and slashed the air with her hand as if it was a knife. I have the utmost respect for her position, but I found working on my novel/MFA thesis excruciating because all I could think about was my divorce. Grief is hard to talk about in our society. People just want us to stop grieving. O'Rouke postulates that there are so many movies and books about loss because we need a public space where we can talk safely about grief.

I recently had the privilege of hearing Joyce Carol Oates read from her memoir and found that her writing about her grief over unexpectedly losing her husband  was a comfort to me--even now. It seems I'm over the whole thing...until I'm not. Just last week I sat in the kitchen of the man who loves me keening about how tired I was of the whole thing, and why didn't Mr. Ex just tell me he was smitten with someone else instead of sneaking around and plotting and lying and stringing me along. So while I keep getting over this mess and then backsliding so that I have to get over it again and again, writing is the thing that seems to help me most. I'm in good company.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apricots, Blueberries, and Stories

This morning I finally wrestled the remnants of  last year's bird netting out of my apricot tree.  The widow's veil has been cast off, and

the first blossom has opened.

The blueberries are flowering too

and tonight I teach a memoir workshop.

Let there be apricots, blueberries, and stories.

Monday, February 21, 2011

This is how a heart breaks

As I read This Article in the L.A. Times this morning I remembered how physically debilitated I felt in the months after Mr. Ex left. The pain in my heart was as real as a migraine or the broken fingers I suffered years ago after catching them in a car door.

The intense legal wrangling has made me feel awful lately. This morning I fought it as if I were coming down with the flu. Jazzercise, then a walk. I took time to notice the little finches in a tree near the post office, their yellow feathers the same yellow as the tree's blossoms. I ate healthily today, dosing myself with  squares of chocolate between the greens and veggies and yogurt. I drank water as though it might wash all of these feelings out of me. I took a hot bath and soaked while I mentally worked through an essay I'm writing. I read while I rested in bed and took two rounds of Advil for all the achiness I'm feeling. I prepped for the workshop I'm going to teach on Thursday, all the while trying to ignore Mr. Ex's characterization of me as "unemployed" in his response to my motion for attorney's fees.

Still, I'm going to bed early and I'm not taking the bottle of premixed margaritas upstairs with me. Only water.

Friday, February 18, 2011


In the dream C. and I are moving her to college. We're on a campus that's carved out of a landscape of tall green hills and sharp ravines. The dorms are tucked between two peaks. The buildings are fraternal twins--identical art deco gems but two different colors, one cream the other rose. There are a lot of other young women milling about in the hallways. I'm already in C's room staring into a small closet, thinking about where she can fit what. C. is in the hallway or maybe just near the front door. I can hear her talking and laughing. Then there's chaos. A man's voice. Shouting. Screams. "He's got someone." or maybe it's, "He's shot someone." Then a moment of  quiet crescendos into sobs.  I'm frozen, listening for my daughter's voice.
In these moments, though I'm not in the hallway, I see with my dreamer's eye what has occurred. And I know what no one has explained. Just down the road there is a penitentiary. No one at the college ever mentions it. A prisoner has escaped. He's hurt my daughter and I am still staring into the closet, unable to move.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Divorce Nostalgia

I'm reading and printing out all of the emails I've exchanged with my attorneys from the beginning of time. I happened to run across an exchange between Mr. Ex and me in March of 2008 that I'd forwarded to them.

It could be that I'm finally losing my mind, but it made me laugh.

Mr. Ex,
After talking to you on the phone the other day, I asked my attorney about
the temporary support stalemate.  He says there is no issue regarding your
non-taxable income so maybe you could clarify for me.
I find it quite humiliating that in addition to the fact that you lied to
me for months, cheated on me and have been incredibly inconsiderate and
hurtful that now I still do not have any temporary alimony.
I'd love to meet you for coffee and talk about this.
Please let me know when and if you are willing to do that.

The calculation of temporay support shown to me by my attorney -- which I understood him to say came from your attorney -- included a very large amount of nontaxable income, which surprised me. Or I should say, I understood that the number to be nontaxable income. I will call my attorney tomorrow and get clarification. If there's a misunderstanding, then I see no reason why we won't be able to quickly get you your share because the formula is standard.

Mr. Ex,
I'm re reading all of your recent emails and this is fucking gibberish.
You sound like a fool.
Maybe try writing like you did when you won "best brief."
And yes the formula is standard so let's employ it.

Oh....he didn't meet me for coffee.

One of L.A.'s Prominent Lawyers

The Narcissist (a.k.a. Mr. Ex) has been busy these past few weeks. He's stopped ignoring me and my attorneys and put some effort into screwing me.

I went without any spousal support for nearly 14 months after he left me. During that time, I used our joint checking account and our credit cards. Now he's claiming that the money I spent should be characterized as an advancement against my share of our community property. Had I received spousal support in a timely manner, I would have received quite a bit more money than I actually spent.

And then there are all those dinners on our joint credit cards in the months leading up to our split. Lots of nice downtown eateries and  price tags just right for dinner for two. I wonder if there's any case law out there that would support him paying that money back to the community?

My ex-husband is a liar and a cheat--and a partner in a large prominent law firm. I used to think of attorneys as members of one of the "trusted" professions.  Priests held a spot in that pantheon once. And bankers. Not any more.

Mr. Ex and I were wined and dined quite a bit when he was applying for his first job. We lived in a 450- square-foot apartment and drove a Honda Civic that cost $4800.00. Our other car was a 1966 Dodge Coronet with 200 thousand miles on it and a set of temperamental spark plugs. I didn't know much about big fat law firms in those days. I wanted the people that Mr. Ex worked with to be interesting. I wanted dinner conversation to consist of something other than droning on about vacation homes and private nursery schools. I wanted him to find partners that would treat him well because tolerating criticism was not one of his talents. I wanted him to be happy.

One of Mr. Ex's classmates had a wife with a different set of criteria. Eddie wanted to know how many of the senior partners were divorced in the law firms where her husband was interviewing. Only one partner out of a dozen or two still with the original wife? Nope, her hubby couldn't work there. I wish I had been smart like Eddie, but the fact is, I did the best that I could with what I knew then. I loved The Narcissist. And I thought he'd always love me. But love isn't always enough.

People are corruptible. Parents want their kids to be friends with nice kids--not heroine addicts. "Birds of a feather flock together," my dad warned my sister and me when he didn't approve of someone we were hanging around with.

Mr. Ex's flock would make Hitchcock's birds look like a bunch of parakeets.

photo credit:

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Big New Writing Life

My big new writing life feels like it's been carelessly washed then stuffed into a too-hot dryer. I have to squeeze into it now and it looks like hell. Tight with a muffin top. Indecently short.

I've had ideas. My index card notebook is riddled with one-liners. I come home, set my satchel on my desk and slide the notebook from its pocket while my laptop purrs to life. I check my email. And then I write long responses to my attorneys. I open my Big D. file and pull things out, checking facts and figures and dates. I rifle through my file cabinet, and before I know it there are a half-dozen folders on the floor. The attorneys want account numbers, information about checks I've written, another list of all my assets. How much I spend....and how much I make. How much I make?? It's called alimony, remember? We went to court together to get it. But really, it's okay if you forgot. It was 3 years and 4 months ago. A long time, yes?

Imagine all this work put into my novel, selling my memoir manuscript,  or a new short story.

But wait. I've exchanged hundreds and hundreds of  emails with my attorneys. There's got to be a book in that, right?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rainy Day

I just bought yogurt with a hundred dollar bill. Money I was saving for a rainy day. Last night I dug through my bathroom cabinet and pulled it from a half-crushed box that once held some beauty product that undoubtedly promised to make me younger or thinner or more beautiful. That hundred dollars survived most of the last decade, and then last evening as I pulled up to my local bank I discovered my ATM card was missing just hours before I'd be leaving on a trip.

I went home and called my bank and waited briefly on hold while I read yet another maddening email from my attorneys asking for information I've already detailed for them. I cancelled the card and came close to canceling the attorneys as well.

The ATM card and the attorneys are dominos. Things are falling down. Yesterday was a tumble of phone calls:
The guy who's appraising the farmland got two calls, neither of them returned just as the two or three others I've made to him in the last couple of weeks weren't returned. He has my money. I don't have his appraisal. Which is needed in order to calculate how much dough Mr. Ex owes me.
I called the investment bank too. They have even more of my money. A check gone missing.
I called the bar association. They don't have my money, but some of their members have cascades of it. If that money were rain, we'd be hovering around the TV watching some meteorologist yammer on about The Storm of the Century. I'm getting something for that phone call. A complaint form I can fill out.

My Internet also went missing yesterday. More money dispensed for a service I don't actually receive. Every day or two, I'm on my knees under my desk plugging and unplugging, shutting down and starting up. "I don't want you to shut down," my therapist says about my grief and anger. I plug myself into her words and try to stay up and running.

Mr. Ex says the money I used in the 14 months before my attorneys managed to wrench alimony out of him (why o fucking why did they wait so long?) is money that I "took." In his narcissistic book of life, it's not support, and now I owe him. I don't owe him anything. He was "the taker."

Took. Taken. I have. I was.
Taken when we were on our final family vacation and he had no time for family. I was taken by him while he was taken with the Soon to be Little Missus and slinking off to see her. I was taken while I sat next to him at our daughter' graduation. Taken in by his charade as the perfect dad. "He's divorcing you the same way he was married to you," my therapist said. A point well taken. "He ignored you during your marriage and now he's ignoring you in your divorce." Going on four years of ignoring.

I can't take it any more.


I just went ahead and took the money. Take that, Mr. Ex.

Now I have it for the next rainy day.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It wasn't a phobia of flying at all

After my November debacle when 7 or 8 (or was it 9?) gin and tonics could not quell my terror on a flight back from the east coast, I went to see a therapist. I wouldn't be able to fly anymore, I feared, if I did not get help. I would never again see my mother, be forced to drive thousands of miles to M.'s graduation, to C.'s wedding, never visit Greece or France or anywhere across an ocean ever again. The anxiety was spilling over into driving. Freeway overpasses were difficult. Going anywhere after dark troubled me. A fellow writer and friend recommended someone.

Seven (or was it eight?) sessions later Terror stands in a corner empty handed, shrugging.

It didn't seem like a true phobia, the therapist said. General Anxiety Disorder, she said. Unresolved grief and anger, she said. Mr. Ex sounded like a classic Narcissist, she said.

So I flew to see my mother last week and went on to the AWP Conference in Washington D.C. Without the gin bath. Without a cranky silent husband next to me drugged to sleep before take-off. But I thought of The Narcissist and the trips we took, how he threw his things in the suitcase an hour before we left the house because he was never sure he could get away from the office. Oh the suspense...would he make it?
But I was always ready. I had the breasts full of milk to feed the baby. I had the diapers, the wet wipes, the juice and the snacks and the toys. I had the baby sling and the umbrella stroller. I had the dolls and the sketchbooks, the homework, the sweaters and the rain boots and the rain coats, the hats, mittens, scarves, and Christmas presents. I had the jump ropes and the story books. I had the theatre tickets, the dinner reservations, the excursions planned, the guidebooks and phrase books. I had the horseback riding reservations, float trip reservations, dinner cruise and fish fry reservations. I had the train and ferry schedules, the days which museums were closed and what to see where, and when we were getting together with which relatives or whom we were taking with us on this or that trip to Europe or New York.

I had it all.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Associated Writers' Palace (a.k.a. AWP)

The photo above is the view from exiting the elevator on the way to my room. Shouldn't we writers be housed in garrets or quaint cottages or cabins with a view of  some pond?

Poets heard: Stephen Dunn, Marie Howe, Gregory Orr, Bob Hicok, Kevin Young, Elana Bell, Curtis Bauer, Tyehimba Jess, Aracelis Girmay.

Conversations with poets: Lee Ann Roripaugh, Allison Adele Hedge Coke, Natalia Trevino, Jen Lambert, Matthew Shimoda, William Trowbridge, Art Homer.

Superstar Author: Joyce Carol Oates reading from her new book--a memoir about the sudden death of her husband.

Panels attended: 2--one on teaching creative writing, one on writing abroad.

Fabulous meals savored: 3

Hours worked at my MFA program's table: 4

Books at the Book Fair:  5 bajillion.

Number of bedbugs in our room: zero

Inspiration: unfathomable

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who are you and what have you done with Denise ?

I've been enjoying the world of linked blogs. It's a whole new world when you dip into a stranger's blog. I've participated in Blog Gems a few times. And have again this week on their vacation theme.

I don't think I have the ability to channel Pollyanna every week. But I am looking at the Reasons to be Cheerful linky from a blogger in England.

Really, it's me here. Really.
And here goes.
1. I am visiting my mom. Time and money have allowed me to do so.
2. My brother took off work today to drive her to the doctor even though I am here. He did so because I was uneasy about driving his truck in unfamiliar territory in iffy weather. And he did it with good cheer.
3. We had pizza for dinner and sat around the table talking about all the dogs we've ever had and I think my mom really enjoyed the conversation.